The Work and Pensions Secretary was in Shipley today to meet unpaid carers, who told her how they have struggled to juggle their caring role and a job.
Esther McVey and Shipley MP Philip Davies visited charity Carers’ Resource, which supports about 16,000 unpaid carers in the Bradford district, Harrogate and Skipton areas.
They met the charity’s leaders and staff before sitting down to talk with carers Shain Wells, 48, of Menston, Helen Tawn, 51, of East Morton, and Arshad Majid, 52, of Wyke.
Carers’ Resource chief executive Chris Whiley was at the meeting to support the carers and represent others who were not able to attend due to work or caring commitments.
She asked Ms McVey whether the Government would consider a carer-aware kitemark or charter for employers, and said her charity would work in partnership with other carer organisations to support officials to make this happen.
Ms Whiley said:
A kitemark would ensure working carers know where they stand if they need to take time off for caring or find themselves in emergency situations with their loved one. It also means they would be confident to reveal to their employer that they are a carer.
Some of our carers have good experiences with their employers but others have a really tough time and either cannot work at all because of their caring role, or find themselves in HR meetings because of their circumstances. We want the Government to lead from the front by setting out national guidelines to ensure all carers are treated fairly.
Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, Esther McVey said:
It was a real pleasure to come and speak to some of the carers at Carers’ Resource today and speak about the issues facing them when moving into employment.
Carers make up a talented pool of employees and after this meeting today I will be looking to work with Carers’ Resource to see how together we can create a carers’ kitemark so employers can recognise their fantastic contribution to the workforce.
Mrs Wells explained to the Minister she is a carer for her 10-year-old son, who is on the autistic spectrum. She is on the committee of an autism charity and she works part-time for Inclusion North on a project to identify what support is needed by carers of adults with learning disabilities.
She asked: “How can we, as carers, best convince employers that we are worth employing when it must sometimes feel like a risk?”
Mr Majid then told the Minister he is a full-time carer for his disabled mother and five children, one of whom has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He owned a fast-food business employing five staff for more than 30 years but had to give up his business as it was too difficult to balance work with his caring responsibilities.
The Minister said she would look into his case after Mr Majid explained he had applied for practical and financial help from the state but is being given nothing despite paying into the system since he left school.
Mrs Tawn told the Minister she had a positive experience with her employer when she began caring for both her mother and daughter. Her mother is now in a care home with dementia and mobility problems and her 18-year-old daughter has been in hospital in Manchester for 18 months with an eating disorder. Mrs Tawn’s daughter has been waiting for a bed in an appropriate adult setting for the past seven months, since she turned 18.
Mrs Tawn said: “I am not able to work at the moment because life is so unpredictable. I spend pretty much every day visiting my daughter or my mum. When I was working I was a subject librarian at Keighley College and at the point when my daughter was taken out of school in 2015 I initially took sick leave to look after her then that triggered a formal process with HR.
“They generously suggested I take a career break and I was grateful for that flexibility and for the support from my line manager and head of department, which was invaluable and reassuring.
“Not all carers would have an employer with such empathy, awareness and compassion. Ideally all carers should have the same support as I had. It shouldn’t be a lottery. That’s why a carer-aware kitemark for employers is so important.”
Shipley MP Mr Davies arranged for the Minister to visit the charity after supporting its plea for the Government to honour a pledge to update the Carers Strategy and due to the charity’s support of working carers and its interest in engaging with employers.
Mr Davies said: “I asked the Secretary of State to come with me to visit Carers’ Resource in Shipley to discuss the barriers facing carers in employment and what the Government can do to help.
“A carers’ kitemark for employers would make a real difference to practically help carers juggle their caring responsibilities whilst retaining their job. I am delighted that Esther was so positive about such a scheme and will be working with Carers’ Resource to hopefully make this a reality.”
The Government said late last year that the Social Care Green Paper this summer will deal with carer issues. A carers’ action plan is due to be published after Easter. Ms Whiley said the concern is that recognition of carers and their contribution will get lost in a Green Paper with such a wide remit.
Written questions were sent in by carers who were unable to attend due to work or caring commitments. The Minister said she would respond in writing in due course.